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Employee engagement is the amount of active involvement and commitment that the employees of an organization have towards the organizations' purpose and its core values. An engaged employee is an indubitable asset to the organization who contributes to the growth of the organization in line with the mission and vision of the organization which he understands and is an integral part of. In general, it is the overall positive attitude of the employees towards the organization and its values. It is one of the relatively new notions that have been heavily marketed by human resource (HR) consulting firms that offer advice on how it can be created and leveraged.
This essay will attempt to define what employee engagement is, its importance and why it should be in the heart of all strategic HR initiatives in modern organizations both public and private.
Meaning of employee engagement
The exact meaning of term 'employee engagement' is very indistinct owing to its complex nature.
For example, Wellins and Concelman (2005a, p. 1) suggested that engagement is ''an amalgamation of commitment, loyalty, productivity and ownership", suggesting it as a psychological state.
Both the academic usage of the term in research and practitioner's usage in conversations with clients fail to yield a concise definition of the term. But we know is that the term is used in different contexts to refer to either psychological state, traits or behavior of employees of an organization.
From various postulates and definitions from diverse relevant literature, we could propose that the term employee engagement is an amalgamation of three facets or aspects mentioned below.
Psychological state engagement
Picture: Facets of Employee Engagement
These aspects are in turn affected by numerous factors like Job attributes, employer image, Leadership, etc.
Contributors to the Aspects of Employee Engagement:
Based on various studies conducted globally, there are three main contributors to these facets of Employee engagement.
The employee themselves - with their unique experiences and psychological personalities.
The employers - their ability to create an environment that promote employee engagement
Interaction Between employees at all levels.
At this point it is quite clear that even by definition and composition 'Employee Engagement' is a set of complex attributes that has to be nurtured in contrast to a simple and generic 'motivational technique'.
Why is it so important?
Employee Engagement in modern context goes beyond a mere buzzword. The capability of an organization to achieve high performance levels and superior business results lies heavily on its capacity to manage employee engagement. As stated already, an 'Engaged Employee' is an indomitable asset to the organization which brings many advantages compared to a non-engaged employee
Engaged employees will stay with the company, be an advocate of the company and its products and services, and contribute to bottom line business success.
They will normally perform better and are more motivated.
There is a significant link between employee engagement and profitability.
They form an emotional connection with the company. This impacts their attitude towards the company's clients, and thereby improves customer satisfaction and service levels
It builds passion, commitment and alignment with the organization's strategies and goals
Increases employees' trust in the organization
Creates a sense of loyalty in a competitive environment
Provides a high-energy working environment
Boosts business growth
Makes the employees effective brand ambassadors for the company
Various workplace surveys have proven without doubt that a highly engaged employee will consistently deliver beyond expectations by finding every opportunity to do what they do best. And they make it a point that they implement this in workplace on a daily basis owing to their high state of engagement. Therefore, it is critical for organizations that seek to retain highly valued employees to create and maintain high levels of employee engagement. In all organizations, SME to corporations, private or public, there is an intrinsic link between employee engagement, customer loyalty and profitability. As organizations globalize and become more dependent on technology in a virtual working environment, there is a greater need to connect and engage with employees to provide them with an organizational 'identity.'
Engagement is important for managers to cultivate given that disengagement or alienation is central to the problem of workers' lack of commitment and motivation (Aktouf). Meaningless work is often associated with apathy and detachment from ones works (Thomas and Velthouse). In such conditions, individuals are thought to be estranged from their selves (Seeman, 1972) .Other Research using a different resource of engagement (involvement and enthusiasm) has linked it to such variables as employee turnover, customer satisfaction - loyalty, safety and to a lesser degree, productivity and profitability criteria (Harter, Schnidt & Hayes, 2002).
Why Rewards and Recognition don't work
" Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition."
In the past decades, organizations have spent hefty budgets to the tune of billions of dollars on implementing Rewards and Recognition programs for their employees in the hope of motivating the employees. However, if there was a mechanism to measure the return on investment on these programs, it would turn out to be less than nothing in most cases. Because most of the times, these measures would have been initiated to as a responsive action to critical issues like falling employee morale. While it cannot be denied that there is a small fraction of employees benefit from these programs, a vast majority of the lot will often feel punished.
These programs are designed with reaching (arguably) a goal in short term with no real long term objectives. Though extrinsic rewards for employees has been in practice and quite effective (again..arguably) for long time now, they continue to turn out to be inefficient and out of place in the changing times. Below is an non-exhaustive list of why most programs fail to meet their intended objective(s)
Programs don't fundamentally change employees' beliefs or commitment to their job; they just change their behavior during the course of the program.
Rewards are not necessarily reinforcing. Even those rewards that might appear to be most obviously desirable do not necessarily work for everybody.
Programs tend to be focused too narrowly on specific goals like achieving a target (e.g. Production target) while other equally or more important aspects are being ignored (e.g. Quality)
Programs tend to be focused on visible goals like reduced production time, etc. ignoring the fundamentals like communication, teamwork, etc. which have long term values
Programs with specific goals can limit performance.
Inconsistent and Unfair Administration. One of the major reasons that reward and recognition programs are unfairly administered is that the program guidelines are unclear and open to interpretation
Programs are added Stress for Supervisors
Programs that will potentially make employees compete with each other for reward or recognitions will destroy teamwork. Rather than having a common goal as a team, employees will now have specific goal in which they are in competition with their own team mates. Whether individual or team-based, reward and recognition programs almost always hurt teamwork.
Programs reduce risk-taking and creativity. When it comes to the possibility of winning a reward, most people are risk-averse. They don't want to risk losing because they tried some new, clever approach that did not pan out.
Reward Programs tend to decrease 'Overall Motivation'. Most programs recognize/reward only top performers, which is a very small group(that is satisfied) compared to the rest of the team/organization(that is unsatisfied).
Engagement and motivation
Employee Engagement and Employee Motivation are different from each. The significant difference can be outlined by drawing out the differences between the motivated employee and Engaged employee. This can be further detailed by drawing out the attributes contributing to the profile of an engaged employee.
Difference between a motivated employee and an engaged employee
Motivated employees are opportunistic. Eyes on rewards, recognitions.
Engaged employees are resilient
Motivation can wax and wane and this will reflect in performance
Once engaged shows consistent levels of performance
Will remain motivated under conditions favoring the motivation
Highly engaged employees remain motivated despite adversity.
Narrow focus on the activities that lead them to the rewards
Wider focus on the big picture to look for opportunities that may contribute further to accomplishing the mission of the organization
The Profile of an Engaged Employee
While doing research on employee engagement, I surveyed individuals
from more than one hundred organizations worldwide.
Among the questions asked was: "How do you know if someone
is engaged?" To really understand engagement in the workplace,
I wanted to know the specific behaviors that characterized
engaged employees. Such data is critical for developing a valid
assessment instrument to measure engagement and interventions
to increase it. As you might imagine, participants provided
many different answers to the question. The following list contains
the ten most frequent responses to the question of how
you know an employee is engaged:
1. Brings new ideas to work
2. Is passionate and enthusiastic about work
3. Takes initiative
4. Actively seeks to improve self, others, and business
5. Consistently exceeds goals and expectations
6. Is curious and interested; asks questions
7. Encourages and supports team members
8. Is optimistic and positive; smiles
9. Overcomes obstacles and stays focused on tasks; is
Is committed to the organization
In my opinion, the most complete response did not make our
top-ten list: "They act as though they have ownership in the
business." This statement reflects perfectly the attitude of
highly engaged employees. Like the small business owner,
such workers do whatever needs to be done, regardless of their
job title. They come in early, leave late, and take work home if
needed. They leave you e-mails and voice mails after work hours
that begin, "I was just thinking . . ." They worry about the little
things. If they see a piece of trash lying on the floor they pick
it up-not because someone is watching but because they take
great pride in their workplace. If there is a problem, they handle
it; they don't ignore it or pass it down the line. They think about
what they are doing and in the process come up with remarkable
ideas to improve your business and satisfy your customers.
They respectfully challenge you and their team members when
they disagree. They treat the organization's money like it was
their own. In sum, highly engaged employees do whatever they
can to make the organization succeed.
You cannot buy engagement, and you certainly cannot
demand it. I remember explaining the concept of engagement to
a client who became very enthusiastic and said, "I want you to
go tell my employees to get engaged!" It doesn't work that way.
In truth, the extent to which employees are engaged has a lot
less to do with them and a lot more to do with their supervisor
and the organization as a whole. Not every employee is going to
think and behave as a business owner would. However, by the
end of this book, you will learn how to work with your employees
so they understand and incorporate this "business owner"
perspective more fully into their own work
Benefits of an Engaged Workforce
Benefits of an Engaged Workforce
According to the consulting firm DDI, "The higher the level
of engagement, the higher the performance of the business.
The research is not inconclusive, not limited to one country or
industry, and not contained to a few hundred people-it's overwhelming."
There is no debate regarding the financial impact
of employee engagement. Later in this chapter, we will examine
findings from selected research studies. For now, I've listed
the many factors that have been associated with higher levels of
â€¢ Increased productivity
â€¢ Increased profitability
â€¢ Higher-quality work
â€¢ Improved efficiency
â€¢ Lower turnover
â€¢ Reduced absenteeism
Employee Engagement 45
â€¢ Less employee theft and fraud
â€¢ Higher rates of customer satisfaction
â€¢ Higher employee satisfaction
â€¢ Reduced lost-time accidents
â€¢ Fewer Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
Although, as we will discuss, methodological concerns temper
these findings, the overall body of evidence strongly suggests
that employee engagement is related broadly and deeply
to the factors that impact all aspects of organizational vitality.
No other psychological variable, including employee motivation,
has demonstrated such an extensive and consistent impact on
an organization's bottom line.
RESPECT Model (carrot)
" Your job gives you authority. Your behavior
gives you respect."
-Irwin Federman, general partner at
U.S. Venture Partners
The RESPECT Model
The RESPECT Model is an actionable philosophy based on the simple principle that when people are treated with respect they engage and work harder to achieve the goals of the organization.
What is an actionable philosophy? An actionable philosophy is a
set of values or beliefs intended to guide one's daily actions and
behaviors, for example, the Golden Rule, which teaches people to
treat one another as they would want to be treated
Circle of RESPECT
Based on engagement research, the Circle of RESPECT distinguishes
five areas in which employees experience feelings of
respect and disrespect.
â€¢ Organization-its mission, vision, values, goals, policies,
and actions. Employees are proud to say, "I work for this
â€¢ Leadership-especially as it concerns their direct
supervisor, believing that he or she is competent and
ethical, makes good decisions, and treats people fairly.
â€¢ Team members-believing that they are competent,
cooperative, honest, supportive, and willing to pull their
â€¢ Work-finding it challenging, rewarding, interesting, and
as having value to both internal and external customers.
â€¢ Individual-feeling respected by the organization,
supervisor, and fellow team members.
Barriers to Engagement and Issues in modern corporations. (report p66)
Despite the compelling case for employee engagement, we know that a significant percentage of the workforce feel disconnected from the work they do and the people they work for
identified four broad inhibitors to effective engagement by an organisation's leadership and management; these inhibitors occur across private and public sectors;
Lack of awareness
5 In the course of our review, we spoke to a wide range of stakeholders in all sectors of the economy. It became evident that a large number of leaders remain unaware of the concept of employee engagement, and the benefits it could bring their organisation. Accor report that 75 per cent of leaders have no engagement plan or strategy even though 90 per cent say engagement impacts on business success. 89 That is why our key recommendation is for a nationwide effort to raise the profile of the issue and to increase the availability of practical support. This lack of appreciation at the most senior level of what employees contribute is underscored by Accenture's finding that over half of Chief Financial Offers surveyed had nothing more than a minimal understanding of the return on their investments in human capital. A further 30 per cent understood it to a modest level and only 16 per cent demonstrated a considerable understanding.90 Philip Whitely of the Human Capital Forum told us that what was required was "a Copernican shift, ditching the centuries old dominance of accountancy as the way of understanding the organisation." (web response to call for evidence). On the other hand, Mel Flogell, head of HR policy at Centrica, believes investors are becoming increasingly interested in engagement, as more people realise an engaged workforce delivers value to an organisation. "Ensuring staff are performing to their full potential is how organisations will secure their competitive advantage. Investment in people is imperative for delivering the business strategy, and shareholders are going to look for evidence for this." And in a new departure, AXA WF Human Capital Fund cites human capital as a primary criterion for investment.91
6 Uncertainty over engagement is also reflected in a fear that engagement might be seen as too 'soft and fluffy' or as 'not the British way'. As the law firm Freshfields, Bruckhaus Deringer told us, when they introduced their groundbreaking engagement strategy for legal associates, "we could have come at it from a fluffy approach, but it wouldn't have worked. So we put the performance metrics up front."
Uncertainty about starting
7 Others, while they were interested in what engagement could offer, did not know how to address the topic within their organisation. This lack of certainty about how and where to start can be compounded by the feeling that employee engagement is something that is 'out there' - a product one buys, often at great expense. It is not always helpful to focus on employee engagement as a product; this in itself can be a barrier to action.
There are also those who have a tendency to confuse wishful thinking with positive action on employee engagement. Thus the ACCOR Services Report92 found that although nearly three in four leaders rate their levels of staff engagement as above average, it appears that the vast majority of them are guessing. "There is a sense that while employers recognise the importance of engagement they don't quite know what to do about it. The issue seems to lie in their unwillingness to talk the talk and truly relinquish command and control styles of leadership in favour of a relationship based on mutuality. As a result many organisations have tapped into what they want from employees as a result of employee engagement - that is high performance - but they haven't tapped into what's in it for the individual who goes the extra mile."
9 When we reviewed current thinking on employee engagement we found that, whilst many appeared to recognise the importance of employee engagement and the strategic role HR and other professionals could play in increasing engagement levels, many are uncertain of how to enable the conditions for engagement to flourish.
Managers and organisational culture
10 Thirdly there remain a large number of disengaging practices in Britain's workplaces which act as barriers and which if not addressed can stymie attempts to introduce engagement. As Ruth Spellman of the CMI told us, "for a high quality of working life it doesn't matter so much what the business is but how the people in that business behave." 93
11 Kingston Business School identified these practices as:
â-â- Reactive decision-making that fails to address problems in time;
â-â- Inconsistent management style, based on the attitudes of individual managers which leads to perceptions of unfairness;
â-â- Lack of fluidity in communications and knowledge sharing, due to rigid communication channels or cultural norms;
â-â- Low perceptions of senior management visibility and quality of downward communication;
â-â- Poor work-life balance due to long hours culture.
"The first barrier was that these top managers believed that their status in the
organisation was evidence enough that they 'had what it took' to be regarded as a leader, and regarded their development as therefore unnecessary. Nonetheless, they believed that the managers below them needed it. However, when the managers returned to the workplace with a clearer idea of what leadership should look like, they became much more aware of the poor quality of leadership role-modelled by their senior managers, and their frustrations increased. This was deepened by another major problem, which was that when the managers attempted to implement their learning, their suggestions for improvement were rejected or ignored by their somewhat defensive and/or reactionary bosses.
"The result was disenchantment, greater cynicism and lower morale among the manager group, who eventually stopped making any suggestions or trying new ways of leading." (Quoted in CIPD Research Insight, Engaging Leadership: creating organisations that maximise the potential of their people).
22 Respondents to the review expressed concern that some leaders regarded employee engagement as another job on the to-do list that could be ticked off once an annual staff survey had been carried out, and the results, perhaps, delegated to HR and line managers to fix. This is to miss the point that keeping employees engaged is an on-going process that needs to be hard wired into an organisation's DNA. The British Association of Communicators in Business emphasised the importance of the chief executive and the senior management team seeing this issue as "an integral part of higher-level strategic activity rather than something they are supposed to do, but that is not a core function."99
23 Nor is engagement something that can be achieved overnight. Professor John Purcell in a note to the review pointed out that the need for quick results did not sit easily with the extent of culture change that might be needed.
24 There can be an over-emphasis on measurement at the expense of change. Indeed to carry out a survey and then not follow it through by implementing changes based on that survey's results, is more likely to disengage staff than not doing a survey in the first place. Two employees quoted by the Henley Centre illustrate the damage done when lip service is paid to engagement100
Two levels of employee engagement
28 It has become increasingly clear to us throughout the review that there are broadly two levels at which engagement can operate.
29 The first level sees an employee engagement strategy as essentially a set of activities or targets. This approach often reflects a degree of compartmentalised thinking among the senior leaders: for example they may have individual strategies for their product positioning in the market place, their geographic focus, their IT renewal - and a human resources strategy. The Board takes the engagement strategy seriously; there is an annual or bi-annual survey to measure engagement levels and the views of staff are sought; departments including HR are then tasked to follow up the survey results. There is little about any of the component parts that can be criticised and it certainly does bring benefits. Nonetheless, in this model, employee engagement is still an 'add-on'. It is not integral to the overall business approach. It is essentially a set of transactions.
30 The second level sees employees as an integral part of developing and delivering the overall business strategy. This strategy will cover the values and behaviours that are required from everyone in order to deliver the company's position in the marketplace, its territorial focus and so on. Employees are at the heart of strategy development and of delivery. The insights of the front line, for example, constantly inform the development of the strategy, ensuring it is market responsive. The insights and ideas of employees, wherever they work, about how products and services can be improved, are harnessed, listened to and acted on. Employees' views about the organisation or service as a whole, are regularly sought, and identified improvements acted on. This is transformational engagement.
A successful employee engagement strategy (sample)
Enablers of Engagement (report)
What has to happen to make engagement work
LEADERSHIP provides a strong strategic narrative which has widespread ownership and commitment from managers and employees at all levels. The narrative is a clearly expressed story about what the purpose of an organisation is, why it has the broad vision it has, and how an individual contributes to that purpose. Employees have a clear line of sight between their job and the narrative, and understand where their work fits in. These aims and values are reflected in a strong, transparent and explicit organisational culture and way of working. The late Professor Sumantra Ghoshal, formerly of the London Business School, believed that organisations which were successful in the long haul were characterised by stretch, discipline, trust and support; they were 'both tough and tender'.
6ENGAGING MANAGERS are at the heart of this organisational culture- they facilitate and empower rather than control or restrict their staff; they treat their staff with appreciation and respect and show commitment to developing, increasing and rewarding the capabilities of those they manage. As Chris Bones told us, "the line manager is the lens through which I see the company and the company sees me."
7 VOICE An effective and empowered employee voice - employees' views are sought out; they are listened to and see that their opinions count and make a difference. They speak out and challenge when appropriate. A strong sense of listening and of responsiveness permeates the organisation, enabled by effective communication.
8INTEGRITY Behaviour throughout the organisation is consistent with stated values, leading to trust and a sense of integrity.